Friday, July 20, 2018

On Leaving the Church

As I said yesterday, the problem with growing in tangles is that sometimes, persons leave the church. This is messy and painful and hard, but it's part of being a real community. So what follows are a few words on leaving the church.

Sometimes, persons leave the church because their life circumstances change. In other words, they have to move. A new job has opened up, but it's in a different community. Or perhaps a loved one has reached the point where he/she can no longer care for him/herself and this person needs to go and be there for awhile. Whatever the reason, this is painful to a community that is tangled together, and it is painful for the one who is leaving. In these cases, we must remember to stay in contact with one another - from both sides. Physically leaving a community does not mean we leave it altogether, and there are ways to be a vital and valuable part of a community and to have that community remain a vital and valuable part of your life even if you are not physically there.

But let's also say this: if you're leaving a community into which you are properly tangled for the sake of financial advancement or climbing up the corporate ladder or some other worldly achievement, pause for a bit and take stock of the very real cost of what you're losing by leaving and the damage you're doing to others for the sake of your own success. It's counter-cultural, but what if we, as a people of God, were a people who chose real, vital community over bigger paychecks or fancier titles? What if we were more satisfied to be known by our love than our titles or achievements? Something to consider. Something to strongly consider.

Sometimes, persons leave the church because they have a fundamental theological difference with the church. Often, these are the ugliest leavings because the person leaving is very sure they are right and everyone else is wrong, no matter how much he loved them yesterday. These often get loud and bitter and become public to-dos, which, by the way, the world is watching. If you're one of these persons, leaving your community because the theology has shifted in such a way that you no longer feel comfortable with it, remember the love that you have for these people. Remember the community that you have together. Remember what it was like before you disagreed and operate under the assumption that they are still the same people. Because, well, they are. They haven't lied to you. They haven't betrayed you. They haven't backstabbed you. You disagree with one another on something that is extremely important to you; it happens. It's part of being human. There are ways to leave a church that is theologically unsafe for you without ripping it - and you - apart in the process.

Sometimes, persons leave the church because they have a preferential difference with the church. This can be anything from not approving of a new elder's appointment to disliking the color of the carpet in the new sanctuary. Maybe it's the style of worship music, the addition of a certain instrument, or the appointment of a new teacher. If this is you, let me let you in on a secret: no one is perfectly satisfied with everything that goes on in a church. No one. No one approves of 100% of everything that a church does or the ways that they do it. If you're tangled into a community and you're ready to bail because it's not perfect for you any more, don't do it. Don't rip apart the soul of a people because you feel entitled to everything being exactly how you want it. It never will be. Count the blessings that you have, take stock of your investment in the community and the community's investment in you. Because here's another truth: things that change will change again. In a few years, there'll be another new elder, more new carpet, a different new teacher, a brand new style of worship. Things change. That's no reason to bail on the people you're tangled into. 

And if something's amiss about the church, truly amiss, if the community is failing in some way and that's why you're tempted to leave, let me say this: stay. Stay and make that community the kind of community that you wish that it was, the kind of community you're afraid it's losing. If you leave, you're not helping the situation; you're fanning the flames. So stay...and do better. 

Sometimes, persons leave the church because the church is changing. This one makes absolutely no sense at all. If you're leaving because things are changing, you're really just changing things for yourself so that you feel like you're in some control of it. Nothing stays the same when you change everything, so there's no possible way for you to leave your changing church and find something exactly the same as you were leaving. It doesn't exist except for where you are. Or maybe you're taking your changing church as an opportunity to go find what you've been wanting for a long time. What if the changes coming to your church are the changes you've been wanting for a long time, but you don't stick around long enough to see them? What if God is actually good and He's been orchestrating these changes and you're about to have something you could only dream of, except you're too scared of what "might" happen and you go off running at the first sign of change? If your church is changing right now, it's not the time to leave. Stay. At least through the change. See what happens. Even when your church is changing, these are still your people. That's what being tangled is all about. 

Sometimes, persons leave the church because they die. Don't die. Seriously, it just makes it easier on everyone if you don't. (Kidding...kind of.)

What I'm saying, I guess, is that even though there are some valid reasons to leave a church, they are honestly few and far between. Most of our leaving is from the flesh, not from the spirit, and that's no reason to do anything, really. Find a reason to stay. If you're tangled into the community, it shouldn't be too hard. In fact, it should be easier to stay than to go. 

And if you do go, know what you're doing to those who stay. Know how you're tearing up a part of them, too, how you're ripping part of their root system out of the ground by your going. It's not easy for anyone, and in a properly tangled community, you will never be replaced. You can't be. There will always be a you-shaped hole when you're gone, just as there will be a them-shaped hole forever in you. 

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